"Forget the billy goats and black cats," Oprah Winfrey gushed on her show. "Bartman's our living, breathing good-luck charm."
Of course the Cubs would be playing the Yankees. It would make their redemption all the sweeter. "Hating the Yankees," Mike Royko had written two decades earlier, "is as American as pizza pie, unwed mothers and cheating on your income tax."
The Yankees and the Cubs were the yin and yang of postseason fortune. The Cubs' last World Series victory had come in the final days of the Roosevelt Administration—Theodore Roosevelt's. They had last won the pennant when U.S. troops were patrolling the streets of Berlin and Tokyo. And the Yankees? Since the Cubs' last World Series appearance, the Yankees had played in 24 Fall Classics and won 16 of them. This would be their sixth trip to the Series in eight years. They had earned it with another demonstration of the Curse of the Bambino, coming back from a four-run deficit in Game 7 of the ALCS to beat the Red Sox on an 11th-inning home run by Aaron Boone, one of New York's less-celebrated hitters.
When it came to head-to-head competition, the Yankees had swept the Cubs in '32, the year Babe Ruth "called his shot" by gesturing to centerfield and planting the next pitch on the other side of the wall. They swept the Cubs again in '38. So it was understandable that in New York City the Cubs were considered a minor inconvenience on the way to a 27th championship. (YANKS IN THREE! the New York Post bannered on its back page.)
Not that such disdain mattered to Chicago fans: They had Wood and Prior, two of the best pitchers in baseball. They had Sammy Sosa, with his 40 home runs and 103 RBIs; Grudzielanek, with his .314 average; and leadoff hitter Kenny Lofton, whose bat had found renewed life after a midseason trade from Pittsburgh.
Indeed, the end of the 58-year pennant drought had turned Chicago's perennial pessimists into believers infused with absolute certainty—and woe to anyone who questioned their faith. The day after the NLCS victory, a rising young politician (and devoted White Sox fan) with designs on the vacant Illinois U.S. Senate seat appeared on a local talk show and cheered on the Cubs. But during a commercial break he chatted with the host about the nature of Cubs fans and said, "I think they've become so bitter about all the frustrations that they cling to defeat almost as a matter of pride. I'd like to believe the Cubs can, but history says, 'No, they can't.'"
As it happened, the engineer at the station was a cousin of Rep. Bobby Rush, the man the young politician, Barack Obama, had unsuccessfully tried to unseat in the 2000 Democratic congressional primary. Within four hours the off-mike chat was in the hands of every Chicago radio and TV station. Within two days the flood of hostile calls and letters—not to mention protesters massed outside Obama's office chanting, "Yes, we can!"—had driven him out of the Senate race.
"Too bad," said New York senator Hillary Clinton. "With his talent, there's no telling how far he could have gone." (Five years later she would choose him to be an assistant attorney general in her presidential administration.)
On Oct. 16, 250,000 fans went to Midway International Airport to cheer the Cubs as they boarded their charter for New York. A group of their most famous fans, including Bill Murray, Jim Belushi and Roger Ebert, sang Steve Goodman's classic A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request with a new chorus:
We will march through the town as the Yankees go down